Rui Hachimura charged down the court and couldn’t finish at the rim but drew a foul in the process. Troy Brown Jr. hit a driving layup on the next possession and, after an Indiana miss, Ish Smith smoothly collected a rebound and hit his own running layup. Bryant finished the sequence with his second three-pointer of the day. The run made it appear the Wizards were ticking off items from Coach Scott Brooks’s checklist — scoring by committee, assertiveness from Brown and Bryant, and defensive awareness. But it was a fleeting moment, and Washington couldn’t make it last.
The Wizards went on to lose, 111-100, for their third straight defeat since games began to count in the restart in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex bubble. The loss dropped them to 24-43, all but extinguishing their flickering playoff hopes in the Eastern Conference.
After Bryant’s three-pointer trimmed the Wizards’ deficit to 68-66 midway through the third quarter, Washington sagged on the other end and allowed Myles Turner to cut through three Wizards defenders caught sitting back and watching. Then Smith made a careless pass and the Pacers logged a 10-0 run that turned the game.
So it went Monday, with spurts of encouraging play canceled by porous defense and poor decisions.
Still, much of the Wizards’ focus lies on the developmental opportunities offered in Florida — especially since ninth-seeded Washington now trails eighth-seeded Brooklyn by 7½ games. The Wizards need to get within four games to force a play-in round to the playoffs but have three tough customers in the Eastern Conference left on their schedule in Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Boston.
Bryant offered highlights even as Washington flailed, just as he did Sunday in a loss to Brooklyn. The center led the team with 20 points and 11 rebounds, bringing the type of aggression Brooks has sought in these bubble games, where the Wizards have little to lose and are trying to get accustomed to setting the tone for every game. The Wizards want to see more consistency across the board, so his second strong game was meaningful.
“He’s been great. His effort was good, his defense was good, he’s gotten better,” Brooks said. “But it’s about being consistent throughout the next week that we’ll have games. I like the way he came back today after a big game yesterday.”
Bryant wasn’t alone. As Brooks continues to experiment with his rotations, Shabazz Napier came off the bench rather than starting at point guard and flourished with the second unit, logging 16 points and four assists. Brown did a little bit of everything, including playing point guard late in the game when Washington trailed by double digits. He scored 10 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had eight assists.
Guard Jerome Robinson also went on a fourth-quarter tear, pouring in 16 of his 17 points in the period but making just 7 of 18 shots from the field. Brooks praised his confidence, if not his consistency.
“We don’t want just a guy taking shots. We want a guy making shots, and he’s going to have to start making them,” Brooks said. “I like him getting good looks, he’s moving, he’s hustling, scrambling. Some of these shots are going to have to fall; otherwise we’re going to have to do some other things.”
Individual progress aside, the Wizards wobbled as a group. A nice level of stability in Sunday’s game gave way to defensive lapses and rushed decisions on offense against the Pacers (41-26), who were without former DeMatha star Victor Oladipo as he continues to recover from a torn quad muscle.
What Brooks liked most Monday was the fight he saw in Washington. He saw it in sequences like that of the third quarter and in Bryant’s energy and aggression, a response from the hard-fought loss Sunday to Brooklyn. Between Sunday’s and Monday’s games, Brooks had a conversation with his players while they were watching game film about staying the course and sticking to their mission in the bubble — development above all else.
“I like this group because they care. I like this group because they take losses hard,” Brooks said. “Everybody wants to play well. We’re trying, we’re fighting; we’re just not getting rewarded yet. But we’re going to keep doing it. We’ve got five more games; we’re going to play the same exact way. Guys are going to be getting minutes probably that they haven’t gotten, going to change some things up along the way, but the common denominator is effort. And we’ve been doing that.”
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